Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finding an Oasis of Understanding in a Desert of Criticism

My last post was entitled "Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve". But another title that I liked better was suggested: "Finding an Oasis of Understanding in a Desert of Criticism". Instead, I've found another oasis of understanding in a different type of "desert of criticism" lately. That desert belongs to those of other faiths who spend way too much of their time criticizing my faith. Recently I've tried to participate in one of these discussions. It's a delicate balancing act to try to get something productive to grow out of a desert while at the same time trying to get out alive. All in all, I appreciate the privilege of following Elder Ballards recent advice when he encouraged us to use "new media" such as blogs to participate in various conversations:

"There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time."

I decided I have nothing to fear from trying to have a "conversation" with those not of our faith, especially when it involves clarifying misconceptions. As President Hinckley said about his interview with Mike Wallace: "I concluded it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing." I try not to get defensive. I really, really try to put myself in their shoes and see their perspective through their own lens. I try to speak by the Spirit in a way that would bring honor to the Master and His work. I enjoy the challenge, quite frankly, of having an open and honest conversation while still being so very respectful and neighborly.

Sometimes it's hard to know when it's time to stop and when to go on and "plow in hope" (1 Corinthians 9:10) Sometimes some of the comments really try my patience. Especially when things they bring up are so old, unimportant, or have already been answered/addressed a gazillion times. Of course pure love needs to be the motive. All in all, it's nice to know I have an oasis to return to--my testimony. The foundation of my testimony is the Book of Mormon. My faith really is unshaken in the Book of Mormon. And there are a lot of implications to knowing that the Book of Mormon is true. Because I know the Book of Mormon is true, I also know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has restored His gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's kingdom with the authority, ordinances, revelation, and true prophets and apostles to lead us to life and salvation--in short--this is God's holy work.

Elder Ballard gave some very solid advice: "As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of New Media, remember who you are—you are Latter-day Saints. Remember as the Proverb states that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that “contention is of the devil.” There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the promptings of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven."

This is my desire. And although I’m strong in my convictions, I’m much more into building bridges than I am into trying to convert people. I really feel no need to prove anything, and certainly no need to point out errors in somebody else's beliefs. As the saying goes, "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still". I'm interested in building bridges, not destroying them. I would love to engage in civil conversation with anybody who sincerely is trying to live the gospel. We all have much to gain from each other. Religion ought not to be divisive. God pitches a big tent to include all of His children. So should we.


Sally said...

So well put, Spence! It can get so frustrating sometimes, huh? I think you're right that the trick is finding the line where it's time to stop trying or to continue on. I wish there were a sincere-o-meter on everyone, so you could tell whether their minds are open to at least trying to understand each other, or if they just want to prove their point and put down the church and those who follow its teachings!

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut, I appreciate your post. We need more people who are interested in building bridges of understanding. I've found such activity extremely rewarding, although not without its challenges. Perceptions are established one conversation at a time, and not only by what we say, but how we go about saying it. It is the manner of our communication which perhaps has the greatest impact. People often do not remember the content of their conversations, but they will never forget how they were treated. There is a temptation to become defensive or debate with others, especially when we perceive them to be attacking our cherished beliefs. However, we must always ask ourselves what we wish to gain by the conversation, and why we are engaging in it. I hope you will be put in touch with those of other faiths who do sincerely and respectfully desire to engage in constructive conversation and dialogue. They are out there.

Dr. B said...

I added your blog to my site aggregator. Could you please help to attract new users to the Mormon Blogosphere aggregator?

Copy and paste the following code into your HTML/JavaScript widget, then take out the # signs:

<#a href="http://mormonblogosphere.blogspot.com/"><#img src="http://i101.photobucket.com/albums/m49/clbruno/Temple20Square-1-2.jpg"/><#/a>



Dr. B.